WHY TRIP PLANNING IS CRUCIAL FOR A GOOD VACATION

I was asking my good friend whether he would like to join me for my next Europe trip. We were discussing our traveling styles and he said that he likes to be spontaneous about what he does on vacation rather than having it all planned out beforehand. That got me thinking about when and why I started creating hour-by-hour itineraries in excel spreadsheets for my vacations…

Capture

Yes, trip planning is A LOT OF WORK. Before I travel each time, I invest hours and hours into researching about attractions to see, what restaurants to try and what passes to buy to save money. It is time consuming but like anything in life, no pain, no gain!

IMG-20180408-WA0151.jpg

  • The process of trip planning is quite enjoyable because you actually learn a great deal about the history, culture and people of the place that you are visiting. When you understand the history or the story behind the attractions that you visit, you would appreciate the experience so much more and remember it better. For example, there are hundreds of churches in Europe, but what makes the Sistine Chapel more unique?

IMG-20180408-WA0097.jpg

  • It helps to relief that travel itch while you are not traveling! I wish I could be traveling 24/7 but unfortunately, I am only able to do one big trip every 2 years! When I feel bummed looking at my friend’s awesome vacation photos on Instagram or Facebook, trip planning is a good distraction and reminds me that there is an exciting vacation for me to look forward to!

20180331_181615.jpg

  • You save money and time! Doesn’t it feel great when you know you saved $20 dollars per person on admission that now you can use towards having a nice dinner? Many attractions have the option of purchasing tickets online before your visit which can be purchased at least one month in advance. Most of them offer at least a 10% discount! Some popular attractions even offer time reservation, so you show up 10 minutes before your scheduled visit and you can just walk right to the front of the line. There is so much to see on a trip and the last thing you want is to spend all that time standing in lines. If you’re traveling during peak season, some line ups could take at least an hour!

20180327_143601

  • Avoid disappointment! Have you showed up to an attraction that you really wanted to see on a trip but you weren’t able to because it was either closed or the line up was wayyy too long? For example, some attractions in Europe are not opened on Sundays so if you didn’t know that ahead of time, you would have wasted all that time commuting there for nothing! Also, some popular restaurants like Noma in Copenhagen are fully booked three months in advance so they do not even accept any walk-in customers.

IMG-20180408-WA0245.jpg

  • Some people argue that they just want to relax and do nothing on a vacation. To these people I ask: “Why not just do a staycation then?” If you’re going to pay a few hundred bucks for airfare and accommodation just to do nothing, I don’t think that is money well spent. And can you really say you’ve visited a place without going to their most famous landmark? A trip to Paris is not complete without a visit to the Eiffel Tower and going to New York without seeing the Statute of Liberty.

IMG-20180408-WA0029

  • Be a smart and safe traveller. Each country has their own unique customs and etiquettes. It is important to have a general understanding of these prior to your visit to ensure that you are respecting the culture of the place you are visiting and also for your own safety and well being. I can give you so many examples of times when I was traveling and we experienced culture shocks! Some were pleasant such as the tip-free policy in Australia and Japan but there were also hard lessons learnt – the bread they leave on the table aren’t free (they charge you based on the pieces you’ve eaten) and even boiled water is not safe for drinking in Italy (friend got traveler’s diarrhea)! For many churches in Europe, you should bring a shawl with you to cover up your arms or legs if you are traveling in the summer. Also, there may be unsafe areas that tourists should avoid. We accidentally landed ourselves in the red light district in Singapore and also boarded a bus in San Francisco in an area where there were homeless people doing drugs…

IMG-20180322-WA0006

  • Lastly and most importantly, trip planning is necessary so you CAN have a good vacation. The last thing you want to worry about when you’re on vacation is figure out how to get somewhere, where to buy tickets or what attractions to visit. After a long day of sightseeing, you just want to hit the shower and go to bed. However, if you haven’t done your trip planning, you have to do it after you get back to the hotel each night or in the morning before you go out. You probably don’t have a laptop with you either so you’ll have to navigate through your phone which is even harder.

IMG-20180328-WA0002.jpg

Whenever I am on vacation, I print my itinerary, tickets and coupons before hand and I just bring it with me on the road. As more attractions accept e-tickets, I simply just download them on my phone which reduces the hassle of losing papers and is also more environmentally friendly! I can travel mindlessly with my itinerary; simply show up at the attractions or the restaurants as they are reserved before hand and have a great time! Transportation is planned as well so we get from point to point rather than wasting time to figure out which means of transportation we will need to take. We are not burnt out from getting lost, waiting in line or walking aimlessly on the streets! We are able to see everything we wanted to see on the trip, we’re well rested each day (not doing last minute planning at night) and we feel good because we know we didn’t overpay for anything!

Trip Planning Tips

Capture

  • Start with It is the best travel planning tool! The website has reviews from travellers who have visited the attractions before so you are getting objective reviews and useful tips for your visit. They have reviews for every possible attractions you can think of and some travellers even shared their own itineraries. There are many filters available to limit the reviews to your preference. I find Tripadvisor very useful as often times they will have information that you won’t even find on the attraction’s website (i.e. how much time you should spend there, fast track options, best time to visit, etc.). However, like other sites with user reviews, you have to sort through those really generic ones (“It was a nice place to visit”) and decide how legitimate the extreme ones are (“The service was horrible”).

Capture 2

  • You do not have to be a keener like me and plan your trip by the hour in an excel spreadsheet. As an accountant, excel spreadsheets simply run in my blood! :p There are many apps out there such as Trip It which are excellent for trip planning. The app gathers all the travel itineraries in your e-mail (ie. Admission tickets, hotel booking, airfare) and organizes them for you by day. You can go in and add any other items as you like so you can have all your information in one place. I also use this as a back-up when I am too lazy to dig out the papers from my backpack!

Capture 3

  • Ask around! You get the best information firsthand from your friends who have traveled to that destination before. Ask them what they liked and what they didn’t like. There are so many times where I have changed my plans after talking to a friend. If that is not an option, Google is your best friend. Sometimes when I can’t find the information elsewhere, I will just do a Google search. “Can you drink tap water in ________?” “Is it safe to travel to _____?” You will often find websites with the information that you need.

Capture

  • Book early. The best way to save money is to book things in advance. Some attractions or trains offer significant discounts if you book before a certain time (usually 3 months) so make sure you do some research to determine the time frame.

Capture.JPG

  • Do a free walking tour. Every city I visit now, I always do a free tour. It is the best way to get an overview about the city from a local’s point of view. The tour guides are very helpful and can recommend attractions/restaurants that only the locals know about. The tours are free but you do have to pay a small tip. It is a good idea to do it on the first day so you have time to check out some of their recommendations.

Capture 5.JPG

  • Get data on your phone. Traveling with data has made my life so much easier on the road! We can search up information on google or use google map to help us navigate. It is super important when you’re traveling in a country that speaks a foreign language as you can use google translate to help you communicate with the locals. Find out who the local network providers are and where you can purchase a sim card and prepaid plan.

Capture

Hope I have convinced you about the importance of trip planning! You will thank me afterwards! Happy planning! If you have any trip planning tips as well, please share them with me in the comment section below!

 

VANCOUVER FISH COMPANY – DINE OUT VANCOUVER 2018

20180204_115800 2.jpg

As usual, Dine Out season goes by super quickly! Can’t believe this was already my last one! It is funny because we were telling our host that we were sad that Dine Out was ending but he said it was a relief for his team as it has been so busy. I just want to take this opportunity to thank all the hardworking hospitality staff for putting up with us fussy customers during Dine Out! You guys have made it such a fun and exciting experience for us!

20180204_115728 2.jpg

Ambiance – 6.5/10. The restaurant is located at the entrance of Granville Island and has a nice view of the dock with some outdoor seating. The interior though is a little dim and there is not much of décor. There was also a washroom stench when we first came into the restaurant that was slightly unpleasant. They may need to do some work on their ventilation system.

Food – 8/10. We had the dine out lunch menu for $29 per person. K ordered the tuna tataki tacos for appetizer and I had the seafood chowder.

20180204_122930 2

Both were delicious and tasted fresh.

20180204_122941 2.jpg

For entrée, K had the seafood linguini and I had the sockeye salmon. The seafood linguini was loaded with a variety of seafood and proportions were generous.

20180204_124821 2.jpg

The salmon was fresh with no fishy taste but I actually enjoyed the lobster risotto the most. It was very creamy and there was a generous amount of lobster meat.

20180204_124908 2.jpg

For our final course, K had the chocolate cheesecake and I had the apple crumble. The chocolate cheesecake was very creamy and the texture was more like a mousse.

20180204_132445 2.jpg

I enjoyed the apple crumble as well as there was a good ratio of the apple, ice cream and cookie crumbles. This time, the apples were not too sour!

20180204_132450 2.jpg

Overall, proportions were good and well worth the $29 lunch price.

Service – 7/10. Service overall was good. Our server kept mixing up our orders but it was not a huge deal.

Good to Know! –  It can be difficult to find parking in Granville Island. Allot at least 15-20 minutes for parking time!

Overall –  I didn’t get a chance to check out their regular menu but I believe it would be similar to other seafood restaurants on Granville Island which is on the slightly pricier side. Food and service was decent so I wouldn’t mind coming back again in the future.

SHOESTRING CAFE, RICHMOND – DINE OUT 2018

20180130_180855 2.jpg

We wanted to take my dad out for a good meal for his birthday and we were very excited to find one of our favourite restaurants in town on the list of participating restaurants for Dine Out! Their regular 3 course menu was already a pretty good deal for $38 but their dine out price of $30 was even more of a steal!

20180130_182707 2

Ambiance – 6/10. The restaurant does not have much décor except for one feature wall. We were lucky to get a table by the wall so the pictures we took that evening looked quite nice. I like the message they wrote on the blackboard for dine out.

20180130_182723 2.jpg

Food – 9.5/10. The meal was super delicious and only $30 for seafood and steak! For appetizer, we got one of each and shared it. The seafood corn chowder was very creamy, the quail was grilled just right and the Dungeness crab avocado salad tasted very fresh. The chowder and quail came with a side of bread which tasted very delicious when dipped in the soup/sauce.

20180130_182842 2.jpg

For entrée, we ordered the New York steak and the lobster tail with scallop risotto. The steak was well seasoned, tender and very juicy. The only complaint I have is that it was slightly burnt. It did not affect the taste of the steak but the presentation did not look as nice.

20180130_184248 2

The risotto was my favourite! It was very creamy, well seasoned and loaded with seafood. The lobster tail was very fresh but was slightly bland. A little more salt and butter would have made it perfect.

Dessert was also very delicious. We got one of each of their dessert to share as well. The orange flan was firm and the taste of orange was not too overpowering. There were three flavours of cheesecake served in little cubes which was very cute. The proportions were just right so it was not too filling. My favourite that evening was definitely the chocolate soufflé with vanilla ice cream. The soufflé was served nice and hot with chocolate oozing in the center. The heat of the soufflé melted the vanilla ice cream and the blend was just perfect, not too sweet.

The staff at the restaurant was very kind and agreed to help us put a candle on my dad’s chocolate soufflé. They also came by to sing Happy Birthday which was very nice!

Service – 9.5/10. It is a small restaurant so they only had two servers. The servers did an excellent job making their way around the tables to ensure that everyone’s water glass was full and their needs were attended to. The food was also served promptly so the dishes were nice and hot.

Good to Know! – This restaurant is usually very busy during the week even when Dine Out is not offered. Make sure you make reservations before you go!

Overall – Once again, the Shoestring Café did not disappoint! I would definitely be back soon!

CHOP STEAK HOUSE, RICHMOND – DINE OUT 2018

20180128_130513 2.jpg

I made lunch plans with my girlfriends and since it was “Dine out season”, we decided to pick a restaurant with a Dine Out lunch menu. The Chop menu sounded delicious and was a great deal for $20 so we decided to give it a try.

20180128_144517 2.jpg

Ambiance – 8/10. I really like the décor in the restaurant. It is very classy and chic. We were lucky to get a booth seat which has a very fancy, disco-ball like centerpiece. We came here on a Sunday afternoon and the restaurant was not too busy.

20180128_130501 2.jpg

Food – 8.5/10. The menu is honestly a steal for $20. The steak sandwich alone is $22 on their regular menu! For appetizer, my friend and I ordered the soup of the day which was a tomato basil soup. The soup was hot and creamy. With tomato soups, I am always afraid that it may be too acidic tasting.

20180128_131223 2.jpg

For entrée, my friend ordered the Carolina Club and I ordered the Steak Sandwich.  Both sandwiches come with a side of fries or salad. My 6 oz steak was cooked medium rare just as I had ordered it and was really succulent. The bread and onions were very crispy. My friend’s sandwich also looked very delicious. Both dishes were plated really well as well.

For dessert, we both ordered the apple crumble which came in a cute little cast iron pan. I like how it was served warm with vanilla gelato ice cream but I found the raspberry and apple a little too sour. I wish they had put more brown sugar crumble in it!  Their proportions were very generous so I could not finish it all.

20180128_142816 2.jpg

Service – 7/10. The restaurant was not too busy but it seemed to be quite understaffed. Our poor server was running table to table and you can see he was sweating. The food came promptly but we had to wait until he was done with other tables before he could help us.

Good to Know! – The restaurant also has a very nice lounge which is located next to the restaurant.

Overall –  I feel that the quality of their steak is not as good as The Keg but it is still worth a visit for lunch to enjoy the nice décor without worrying about long line ups.

THE VICTOR, PARQ VANCOUVER – DINE OUT 2018

20180127_222035 2

I have never been to Parq Vancouver before so I wanted to pick a restaurant there so I could check out the venue after we finished dinner. All 4 restaurants in Parq Vancouver are doing Dine Out this year but the menu that caught my eye the most was The Victor.

Ambiance – 8/10. The restaurant is located on the rooftop of the Parq (6th floor). I personally find the wallpaper in the doorway a little disturbing as it looks like dying cockroaches but my mom seems to think it looks nice…

20180127_221953 2.jpg

Also, the décor of the restaurant is just mediocre at best but the view from half of the restaurant is pretty stunning. There is ¼ of the restaurant with the view of Science World and ¼ with the view of Roger’s Arena. I was told by our hostess that we would be getting a table with a great view and guess what…we sat in the ½ that was facing the wall. L However, the reason why I scored the ambiance so high is because of the breathtaking view along the walkway to the restaurant where you have Roger’s Arena as the backdrop surrounded by a beautiful lit-up pond. I would love to grab a drink out here during the summer time!

 

Food – 7/10. The restaurants are managed by the James Beard Award-nominated restaurateurs Elizabeth Blau and Canadian Chef Kim Canteenwalla of Blau + Associates. The menu is influenced by the multiculturalism of the city and is prepared with local, fresh ingredients.

20180127_202930 2.jpg

We each got a piece of cheese bread with Japanese shitake mushrooms to start. The bread had an interesting crunchy texture and was very moist.

20180127_204102 2.jpg

For appetizer, the three of us ordered the crab lobster bisque which was poured into a bowl by our server. The bisque came with a tiny piece of lobster and crab along with a piece of toast. The bisque itself was creamy and thick but lacked the sweetness of lobster compared to the one I had at Wildtail. Proportions were also much smaller.

20180127_204225 2.jpg

For entrée, I ordered the coho salmon and my mom ordered the sirloin cap. The salmon tasted fresh with no fishy taste. The sirloin cap, on the other hand, tasted a little too salty and the ends of the steak was a tad chewy. Proportions were decent.

Dessert was my favourite. I ordered the chocolate mousse and my mom ordered the Eton Mess. I liked how they used banana in the Eton Mess as that is one of my favourite fruits but I felt that you could taste the ingredients (raspberry, banana, sponge cake and lemon meringue) individually but they did not really blend well together. Conversely, the chocolate mousse was super delicious! The chocolate was so rich and creamy yet not too sweet. I love how they included gold sprinkles on it which made it even more glamourous!  We were pretty full after the 3 course. $40 for $52 worth of food is not too bad.

Service – 7/10. Even though we make reservations, we still had to wait 30 minutes for our table. It didn’t make sense to us why we weren’t seated even though we saw vacant tables. The hostess told us it was because she wanted to get us a table with a greater view which did not materialized. Other than that, the service throughout the evening was fine. Our server was quick to attend to our needs and food was delivered promptly. The servers all carried a portable serving tray stand and carefully organized our dishes before putting it on our table.

Good to Know! – Parking is very limited. For the size of this venue, 1070 spots are not enough! We circled a few times before we were able to find a spot. The elevators are also super slow. Expect to wait at least five-eight minutes before the elevator comes to your floor and when it does, it is already jam packed. Give yourself plenty of time to get here!

Overall – It was nice to finally get to check out this up and coming spot in downtown Vancouver but I don’t think I will be coming back soon. If I want to hit up a casino, I would rather go to River Rock instead where there’s plenty of parking and is also less crowded.

 

Dark Table – Kitsilano, Vancouver

This was my first time trying the Dark Table experience so I was feeling a little anxious before going in. A lot of silly questions popped in my head like…”What if I need to use the washroom…? What if I knock over my cup of hot tea?! What if I choke on a bone!?!”

Our dinner reservation time was at 8:45 p.m. We had arrived earlier than our scheduled time and the restaurant looked like it was shut. I thought Google Map had lead me to the wrong address but when I got closer, I saw the Dark Table sign…

When we came back a little later, there were more customers arriving and the hostess greeted us. At the entrance, you are given a menu where you can choose your main course and choice of beverage. The anxious me got worried again when I saw the words “Surprise starter” and “Surprise dessert”…”What if I am allergic to some of the ingredients? What if the dish is spicy?!” The hostess assured me that nothing was spicy and she did mark down that I do not eat walnuts. After she takes your order, you just wait outside until your server calls you in.

20180112_204420[1]

This is the only picture I took that night as you are required to turn off your cell phone after you enter the restaurant. They say a picture is worth a thousand words but hopefully my writing skills are good enough so that I can help you visualize my dining experience with less words than that! 😀

The servers at the restaurant range from having little vision or no vision at all. They guide you into the restaurant by having you hold on to his/her shoulder. He/she will then take you to your table. While I was waiting for our food to be served, I was trying to orient myself and felt around the table to find my cutlery and cup of hot tea.

Our appetizer came shortly afterwards. I reached for my fork and began to stab randomly on my plate hoping I will get something. No luck. Then I realized it was much easier to locate the food with my fork by touching the food first with my hand. The appetizer was cinnamon apples with popcorn in a lemony dressing. This is my guess only as I forgot to ask the cashier what it was on our way out! It was pretty easy to tell due to the unique texture of each ingredients though.

For the main course, I ordered the fish of the day, Mediterranean style which came with aleppo pepper and grilled lemon. I think it was a red snapper fish. I also confirmed with the server before eating whether it was boneless or not! The fish was cooked just right and the skin was very crispy. There was no fishy taste and tasted very fresh. There was also some squash like vegetables served on the side. There was also a piece of lemon that I mistakenly put in my mouth which was super sour! My friend ordered the local chicken kafta which was also boneless. He said the chicken was very succulent. His dish came with a side of coleslaw.

Finally, for dessert, he had the tiramisu and I had a mixed fruit sorbet. Once again, this is our speculations only! They served me a different dessert as I said I did not want to have any nuts. Both desserts were pretty decent.

The 3 course dinner costs $42 per person but we had a Groupon so we only paid $59. I think $30 per person is more reasonable as the proportions are a little small. When you are ready to leave, the server will take you to the cashier to pay. There are only two lit areas in the restaurant; one is the washroom and the other is the cashier area. After you pay, your server will take you back to the entrance to leave.

We spoke to one of the servers to find out more about the logistics of the restaurant. The servers memorize the location of the tables. The food and drinks are prepared by staff who have full vision. Once the food is ready, the waiting staff takes the food from the kitchen to the bar area and tells the servers which table to deliver the food to.

When we left, it took us some time to get used to the bright lights again. We looked at our phones and it was already 10:45 pm! Two hours went by in the blink of an eye! You really lose track of time when you are in complete darkness…This was a very interesting experience for me as I have never done anything in pitch black before. It was a little frightening at first as I felt very uncomfortable and disoriented. I was actually afraid I was going to fall asleep 😛 However, after a while, I started getting used to it. I have learned to rely on my other two senses, my sense of touch and taste , to help compensate for the lack of vision. Although I could not actually see the food, I could visualize what I was eating in my head through these two other senses.

It was also a great experience because I think it’s been a very long time since I’ve had a meal with someone without actually looking at my phone. Being without a phone, it really forced me to focus on the conversation with my friend and genuinely enjoy their companionship. It is amazing how quickly those two hours flew by when sometimes I feel like an hour dinner with the family feels more like four when you’re done scrolling through your latest Facebook and Instagram feeds…

Mostly importantly, I am reminded how blessed I am to have full vision. I can walk out of the restaurant and see the beautiful colours of the world again — the street lights, the cars on the road and my friend’s face. I cannot imagine what it will be like if I have to have every single meal in complete darkness…

So I definitely urge you to give this Dark Table experience a try! It is a little pricy but the experience is well worth it!